MANCHESTER, N.H. — One of the many wonders about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is what he is still doing in the minors.
The Toronto Blue Jays are being cautious with their 19-year-old prospect, who is more than living up to his pedigree as the son of a Hall of Famer by slugging his way through the double-A Eastern League.
As the third baseman for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Guerrero is perhaps the most famous prospect in the minors, bringing a .433 batting average into Tuesday night’s home game against the Portland Sea Dogs. He hit his 11th homer of the season, driving in three to up his RBI tally to 53, in the 11-2 Fisher Cats victory.
“I just come up here and try to work every day and control what I can control,” Guerrero said through a translator after batting practice.
Guerrero has grown to be more phenom than prospect through the first 46 games of the season, and he already has a local following in New Hampshire and throughout the Eastern League.
“We show up at hotels at midnight and there’s like 50 people waiting for our bus. We’re like a boy band,” manager John Schneider said.
The Fisher Cats, and Blue Jays organization, have been keeping “Vlady” in relative seclusion from the public. He speaks some English but he’s much more comfortable speaking Spanish. He also just turned 19 in March, so the Blue Jays seem content to let him grow a little more in the minors rather than rush him up to Toronto — despite a growing public clamour to call him up.
“Vlady can go play in the big leagues right now — I think everyone knows that — and handle himself just fine,” Schneider said. “Until I get that call, I’m going to enjoy writing him into the three-hole every night.”
Playing in the Eastern League is also allowing Guerrero to grow as a leader, something Schneider said he was reluctant to do early in the season but is getting more comfortable with experience.
Blue Jays fans hoping to see Guerrero make the leap to the majors this week while Toronto plays Boston were disappointed Tuesday, when Jr. was in the lineup for the Fisher Cats about 50 miles north of Fenway Park, where the Blue Jays played the Red Sox.
Guerrero seems OK being patient about the “when” part of his impending promotion, taking advice he gets from his father to heart as he tries to become a more complete player. He’s also got some company on the bench in teammates who grew up watching their fathers play in the majors. Cavan Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, and Bo Bichette, son of Dante, are also infielders with the Fisher Cats.
“The people don’t only come to see me. They also come to see my teammates because they are really good, too,” Guerrero said. “I don’t pay much attention to that (hype). When I go home I just try to rest and come here the next day.”
Guerrero’s Canadian ties have only led to more of a frenzy for Toronto fans who want him there now. He was born in Montreal, when Vlad Sr. was a young outfielder for the Expos with one of the top arms in the game.
Schneider said that arm strength was passed on and Vlad Jr. has worked hard to hone it with his defensive skills at third base.
“If you put Vlady out in centre field, he’ll fire that thing right to home on one bounce or in the air. He’s got a cannon,” Schneider said.
Schneider said Guerrero’s defence is strong, but is often overshadowed by what he’s been doing at the plate.
“When his bat is so good, his glove is going to be behind no matter what. He’s made great strides and he’s right where he should be defensively,” Schneider said.
Schneider described Guerrero as a “fun kid,” who drew laughs from his teammates by putting on a catcher’s mask while taking grounders during infield practice.
“He comes to the field every day and he’s just like ‘let’s go,’” Schneider said. “It’s easy to do when you’re having the success that he’s having, but he’s just ready to roll every day and he’s a lot of fun.
“He’s a lot of fun to be around.”
Doug Alden, The Canadian Press